Most of the individuals that are part of the Iowa HS wrestling fan base, past and present have been made fully aware of Brad Smith’s coaching history and accolades on several thousand occasions… that is unless they were born under some sort of giant, prehistoric fossilized basketball. He is one of the best and most decorated HS wrestling coaches not only in Iowa, but I am guessing on a national level. Heck, I would be bold enough to say that he is up there with the best HS coaches across the nation regardless of sport. The man is a legendary coach and if a person has compiled a better HS coaching resume anywhere in anything, then I would like to see it, just so I could read it in amazement.
However, while Brad’s coaching accolades are incredible, this article will primarily be about Brad Smith, the “the wrestler” and a lot of these questions will be directed towards his experiences as a competitor. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to avoid his coaching career/accolades, for doing so would be going out of my way to try to ignore Brad Smith’s personal pet elephant in the room. You can’t discuss Brad Smith without mentioning his coaching career, for that has become such a large portion of his identity. But the man was an elite-level wrestler before he started on his legendary coaching journey and it will be interesting to see what sort of wrestling journey produced Brad Smith. Not to mention, I want to write something that not only the Iowans would find interesting, but also wrestling fans from his roots in Illinois. And there will be just as many questions pertaining to Brad Smith, the wrestling dad, for that’s how I originally knew him and from the outside looking in as a longtime competitor of one of his sons (Jacob) he happens to be one of the best wrestling dad’s in history on top of his wrestling and coaching career.
So the first time I had ever heard Brad Smith’s name was after I weighed in for AAU State as a 6th grader and picked up my bracket for the weekend and the booklet that had a list of the prior year’s placers… I immediately noticed that I had a guy in the grade below me in my bracket named Jacob Smith who won it the year before. “Maybe he just had an easy bracket,” I thought. Then I saw that the bracket had Brad Nerem in it and that kid gave me one of my best matches of the season the year before. So he was obviously good:
I showed that to my uncle Kevin and he reacted with, “Jacob Smith, wow I heard about that kid, that’s Brad Smith’s boy. Brad Smith is a legend.” “Brad Smith?” I asked? “Who is that” Kevin said, “Brad won Nationals for the Hawkeyes and was the HC of the Lisbon dynasty and is now the HC at IC High. You know the Light’s, Alber’s, Butteris’s, etc. that I’ve told you stories about? Brad was their coach.” “Great,” I thought… And to think that the only person I had to worry about was Anthony Bribriesco. “I can’t wait to see this kid wrestle. I like seeing how much kids’ styles remind me of their parents,” Kevin said. I did not share this same sentiment. I would have preferred it if Jacob were one of those jabronie type kids who wore T-shirts and shorts with tennis shoes when they wrestled. Those kids were like having an automatic 10 second pin. And Jacob most certainly wasn’t that.
We did not meet up that weekend, but we did the following year at a freestyle tournament at IC High…the first of what ended up being 4 losses for me at the hands of Jacob Smith. We always had close matches, but he always found some way to win. He was one of two guys in the grade below me that I would consistently lose to. He was such a great wrestler, IMO… One of the grittiest ones I ever faced. Even when I had good days and felt good and wrestled well, he still beat me. To give you a vague idea of what I am talking about, here are 2 of the wall charts he brought home in which I would have brought them home if it weren’t for him!
So the first time I wrestled Jacob was at the IC High freestyle tourney my 7th, Jacob’s 6th grade year. We had each other 1st round. When I found this out, I would look over at him to try and see if he looked scared or anything… and I would see Brad. My first impression of Brad was that he appeared very friendly! Actually I am lying about that. He had a very intense demeanor who seemed to have total respect from the wrestlers he coached. He didn’t seem to be interested in any of the opponents. Just had a vibe of “my team is good. They know they are good. I know they are good. I helped make them good. And if any of our opponents to dare cut in line in front of us at the concession stand, we will defend ourselves by beating the smithereens out of them.” At first glance, he reminded me of John Kreese, the sensei of the Cobra Kai karate club that was always giving Danielson a hard time in the movie Karate Kid. And Jacob was a non-blonde Johnny Lawrence. This was bad. My uncle Kevin was my Mr. Miyagi and he wasn’t there, so this was very bad. I decided to keep my distance from them. I really didn’t want to get beaten up in the hallway by those scary-good Iowa City High guys like Cory Connell, Jacob Smith, Joe Lucci or especially the ultra-intimidating Tony Brown all dressed like skeletons in the same fashion that the Cobra Kai guys beat Danielson up.
So Jacob and I took the mat and away we went. I got off to a fast start on Jacob… I dominated from the whistle and it didn’t seem as if I would have much trouble with him. Just takedowns and basic stuff… I hit a couple fireman’s carries. I wrestled good the first 90% of the match. I could tell he was good…just younger than me. His previously stoic and silent/all-business father was more vocal in the corner than I had anticipated. He was in the corner screaming, “SWEEP THE LEG, JAKIE!!!” Just kidding. He was just really, really into his son’s match and encouraged him the entire time regardless of what the score was. I still couldn’t believe who I was wrestling. Everything went in my favor until there were about 20 seconds left in the match. I was leading 8-0 and we were on our feet when Jacob threw me in a NASTY headlock. He got at least 4 points out of that thing. It was deadly. I had to just keep from getting pinned for about 20 seconds and I would win the match by 4-5 points. Easy enough… that is unless I was wrestling against literally any other guy in the entire gym. For one, it was tough enough as it was being on my back and trying not to get pinned by a kid Brad Smith was coaching, but this was his son…and Brad was going nuts. Nothing disrespectful. Just absolutely stoked about what his son had just done, screaming things like, “ATTA BOY, JACOB!!! THAT’S MY BOY!!! SQUEEZE! FINISH IT OFF, JACOB!!” Another thing that was not in my favor was that this took place at IC High…where Brad coached at the time… and there was a guy who appeared to be fresh out of HS that was officiating. If there was a borderline call, Jacob was gonna get it…and I understood that coming in. When there were about 10 seconds left on the clock, I was still on my back, but far from pinned. I was more than happy to coast this one out. That’s when Brad yelled, “there it is! HE’S PINNED!!! HE’S PINNED!” and in response to that I heard my coach, Dan Cummings kind of snap back, “no he’s not, not even close!” And I knew where my back was… I could tell if I was pinned or not. So was I pinned? Lol… I am sorry Jacob, but you got away with one there… That was the only time I ever wrestled Jacob where there was any questionable call of any kind. He beat me indisputably the other 4 times… This one I did not agree with, though. I wasn’t pinned. But the official called it. Jacob pinned me with 5-10 seconds left in a match that I led by 8 points. Brad was ecstatic in the corner. So happy for his son. Coach Cummings was not happy… which says a lot considering he’s a pretty laid back guy. He was much more upset than I was. Cummings said a couple words to the official after the match, basically calling him out for the home-cooking, while my attention kind of shifted to Brad greeting Jacob when he walked to him in the corner. Brad gave Jacob a hug and I couldn’t believe what came out of his mouth. He said, “WAY TO GO, JACOB! THAT WAS A GOOD KID THAT YOU JUST BEAT THERE! YOU DIDN’T GIVE UP!!! WAY TO GO, SON!!! I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!!” “Wowza, he just told Jacob that he beat a good kid… That means Brad Smith knows who I am…that’s wild,” I thought. And when I walked past him he patted my shoulder and said, “hey Swafford, you are a tough kid and wrestled a tough match! Don’t get too upset about that one. Bounce back!” I don’t think I have ever been more happy after a loss. I couldn’t believe that this legendary Iowa Hawkeye and decorated HS coach knew who I was. It floored me. Coach Cummings gave me a speech about how I shouldn’t feel like I lost the match, for he didn’t feel I was pinned and that I needed to just make sure that I never put myself in a position for calls like that to take place to begin with. I wasn’t upset, though… If I was considered a formidable opponent by Brad Smith for his son, then well, maybe I was doing some things right? I always struggled in the confidence department…but this helped my confidence…a loss.
I feel as if Brad Smith is the GOAT. The results speak for themselves, but I was actually in his freestyle club for 2-3 weeks my Freshman or Sophomore year. In that 2-3 weeks, the man had my full attention every practice (which is difficult considering I am a person who is generally easily distracted) and I got to work out with guys like Josh Watts, Cory Connell and Jacob Smith. I was fortunate enough to have several different influential coaches at every level of wrestling that I competed at and I realize that Brad wasn’t my coach for a lengthy duration of time, but I will say that Brad Smith is one of the best coaches I ever had considering the big strides I made in short time.. Fantastic with both the mental and technical components of wrestling and approaches each guy in the manner that they respond to the best. A lot of my improvement under Smith had to do with the practice partners in the room, but an equally important reason for this was his style of coaching worked well with me. I was not the most coachable kid in the world. In fact, I could be straight-up uncoachable at times. It took a pretty patient coach to not have a conniption while coaching me, for I could be a self-destructive headcase on the mat. Brad seemed to know how to handle me in what little time I spent in that room. We left that club because my younger brother didn’t have many guys around his size to practice with, so we joined one that had guys for him to work out with. Not to mention, the style at the other club was more consistent with the type of at atmosphere that Justin responded well to. This upset me. It was the only time in my entire life where I felt like my younger brother’s wrestling career was prioritized above my own, for I was flourishing under Brad Smith. There aren’t many coaches who could have gotten out of me what Brad did in years let alone a mere 2-3 weeks.
And over the years, something that has impressed me a lot about him is his ability to remember people’s faces and names. When I was at Loras College, a few of my wrestling buddies; Joe Wall and Adam Gottschalk from Hempstead and Joe Kane from Wahlert randomly spotted him at a little bar and grill that we used to frequent. All 4 of us kind of went back and forth as to whether we should approach him and say hello… basically, we doubted that he would remember us. The moment we got within a foot of him, he broke the ice by addressing all 4 of us by name and asking how we were doing. He remembered all 4 of us and was happy to see us. A lot of your elite level wrestlers and coaches would consider the D3 caliber-type wrestlers to be forgettable, but not Brad. I always thought that was so cool of him. So if you see this man around, I’d encourage anyone to introduce themselves… you’ll be amazed at how mutual the respect is and chances are, he won’t forget you.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
In high school I was involved in the Mayor Youth Foundation Wrestling Club where all the elite wrestlers from the Chicago area and the superbs would come to train. Terry McCann, a former Olympic Champion and NCAA Champ at Iowa ran the club. Wrestled at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
What year did you graduate?
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
We didn’t have youth wrestling back in my day and my first experience in wrestling was in PE class in 7th grade. Then my PE teacher (Mr Podwell) encouraged me to enter the PE Intramural tournament, which I did. Didn’t know much technique but I enjoyed the competitiveness of the sport and went on from there.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My former brother-in-law wrestled all through high school in Illinois and my brother Jeff wrestled just his freshmen year. I basically encouraged my brother to give wrestling a try and he was actually pretty natural at it but he was more interested on working on cars. My three sons, Jacob, Cody, and Colton all wrestled for me when I coached at Iowa City High. Jacob was a State finalist his senior year and placed 2 other years, Cody was a 3 time State qualifier and 2 time placewinner, and Colton qualified all 4 years and placed 3rd his Junior year. Enjoyed coaching them and proud of what they accomplished in wrestling. They were mulit-sport athletes so they never did just focus on wrestling.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
Started wrestling in 7th grade and my toughest opponent was Joe Amore from Glenbrook during Junior High. We never wrestled folkstyle but we met 3 or 4 times in freestyle and went back and forth. Joe ended up being a Junior National Freestyle Champion his senior year and went to Iowa the same year I did. He was a weight above me at Iowa.
What was your record in HS?
93-14. Lost 13 of my matches my freshmen year. We would only compete in 26-32 matches a year.
How did you place at state every year?
State Champion at 126 in 1971 and State Champion at 132 in 1972. In Illinois during my era there was just one class (no 1A, 2A, 3A)
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
My sophomore year I was undefeated going into the State qualifying tournament and overlooked my first round opponent and lost 9-8 and couldn’t wrestle back. I remember the match like it was yesterday and it taught me to always respect your opponents. I wrestled the same kid that beat me the next season and won 12-0.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Best position is on my feet and I could get away from anyone. If I couldn’t turn my opponent on top I would let him go. Felt most comfortable on my feet.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
The wrestlers I lost to my freshmen year that I would meet again I would win those matches. Never lost to the same guy twice.
Who was your most influential coach?
My high school coach Tom Porter, and my college assistant coach Dan Gable.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
My freshmen year in high school was the first year John Hersey opened. By my junior year we won the State Championship the 3rd year the school was open. My senior year we also won. At Iowa, under head coach the late Gary Kurdelmeier, we won the NCAA both my junior year 1975 and my senior year in 1976.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
The wrestler that was a senior when I was a sophomore named Dave Maple who won 2 State titles before me, and of course Dan Gable. Maple went to a different High School but I learned a lot from him when we trained together at the Mayor Youth Foundation. I went to the NCAA the year that Gable got beat by Larry Owings. It was held at McGaw Hall in Northwestern in Illinois not far where I lived. You could hear a pin drop when Gable lost.
Do you still have Illinois wrestling pride?
I still follow the Illinois State meet every year but it does not compare to the Iowa State tournament as far as the number of spectators. Illinois still produces a lot of blue chip wrestlers every year and always do well as a State at Fargo.
Compare and contrast the Iowan and Illinoisan wrestling styles of your days…What was the wrestling scene like in Illinois when you were in HS? How did it differ from the Iowa wrestling culture at the time?
In my opinion I feel Illinois wrestlers like to wrestle on their feet more where Iowa wrestlers were better on the mat. In high school we actually wrestled Waterloo West when they had really great teams at that time with Coach Bob Siddens. We were at a tournament my senior year in Wisconsin where they were at. We finished 2nd just a few points behind Waterloo West and I remember they were tough on top!My high school coach really promoted the sport at my high school. He would get as many people involved with our program which in turn brought a lot of fans to our home meets. We would pack our gym like we do at Lisbon now. My first few years at Hersey we had over 100 wrestlers on our team. We had to run 3 different practices a day. These days you don’t see those numbers mainly because coaches aren’t promoting the sport like they should.
What were some of the powerhouse Illinois HS teams in your day?
Addison Train,East Leyden, DeKalb just to name a few.
Were there different philosophies and styles that you were coached with in Illinois that differed from how things are generally done in Iowa?
Not necessarily. I actually show some of the technique my high school coached showed me that still is effective to this day.
Do you feel as if your experience with the wrestling culture in Illinois and Iowa helped make you become a more well-rounded coach? Did any of your experiences or tactics that you learned in Illinois work to your advantage after you transitioned to the Iowa wrestling atmosphere?
Everything I picked up in high school I would still use in my repertoire at Iowa as a competitor and a coach. I learned to improve on those techniques to make them more efficient. Obviously I learned so much at Iowa that helped me improve as a wrestler which in turn carried over to my coaching.
What was your opinion of Iowa wrestling before moving to Iowa?
I wrestled several Iowa wrestlers when I competed for Team Illinois at exchange meets and Junior Nationals. Whenever I knew I had an Iowa opponent I felt I was going to be in a dogfight. A lot of times that turned out to be true.
Were the Iowa guys welcoming of you and what you brought to the table from what you learned in wrestling in Illinois, or were most already set in their ways?
When I first started at Lisbon I was just out of college and I trained them and coached them differently than Coach Baxter did. It took them a while to adjust to my coaching methods from what they were use to, even though Coach Baxter and I have a lot of the same philosophies. When I came to Iowa to wrestle everyone had their own particular styles. After a few months learning technique from coaches like Gable, Kurdelmeier, and J Robinson we began to adjust our styles some and on the mat you could see similarities.
Did you immediately open yourself to Iowa tactics, styles, etc. that you weren’t familiar with before coming to Iowa or did that take some time?
I was well coached in Illinois by Tom Porter and Terry McCann so the adjustment was smooth. The Iowa vs. Illinois style wasn’t all that much different. The basic techniques were pretty much the same but I had my own ties up and set-ups to my leg attacks.
Do you still follow the Illinois wrestling scene today?
Yes. I have a few friends that coach in Illinois and I follow their teams some. I also follow my high school program and as a matter of fact the Head Coach got in contact with me and I did a 2 hour Zoom meeting with all the Hersey wrestlers. They threw some interesting questions at me. It was fun.
Were you expected by the pundits to become an NCAA Champ before you won it?
Some felt I could have – should have been at least a 2 or 3 time All-American. I was ranked pretty high both my sophomore year and junior year but feel a little short of becoming an All-American. My junior year I got beat in the blood round. I felt if I had everything together I would have been a 3 time All-American. My senior year, obviously, I put it all together.
When you came to Iowa, what were your first impressions of the average Iowan personality?
Most of them were very personable, really easy to talk to. The Iowa wrestling fans are the best and most of them are very knowledgeable about the sport.
What skills did you have that enabled you to reach the pinnacle of NCAA success as a wrestler?
I had natural balance, physically strong, and solid in all positions. I have good mat sense and didn’t get out of position. I do feel I could have worked harder in the off-season.
How would you compare and contrast the wrestling scenes at IC High and Lisbon?
Iowa City High wrestlers were very coachable but have more distractions than wrestlers at smaller schools like Lisbon.
At Lisbon my wrestlers were a lot easier to keep track of and they never had excuses to miss practice.
Obviously I had more depth at Iowa City than at Lisbon. At Lisbon we have always drawn really great crowds including a lot of our student body. It was different at City High. Decent crowds but not always the fan base you would like to see. I enjoyed my 21 years at City High and had some great teams there and I had the opportunity to coach several of them to Division 1 programs.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
That’s a tough question. The ones I have coached that have gone on to excel both collegiately and internationally have to be Jeff McGinness and Royce Alger. McGinness was an undefeated 4 timer and Royce won 3. Both were very dominate during high school as well as college. Both Jeff and Royce won 2 NCAA titles Don’t count out 4 timer Cael Happel of Lisbon. I’m excited to see his future at University of Northern Iowa.
Who is the GOAT HC?
I have so much respect and have worked with Bob Siddens of Waterloo West and Coach Bob Darrah from Dowling. Dan Gable would have Coach Siddens work his wrestling camps and Dan would always put me with Bob. He was so great with the kids. I coached with Coach Darrah several years on his Junior National Coaching Staff. I learned so much from them and would pick their brains. I wouldn’t have become the coach I am today without them in my life. RIP Coach Siddens and Coach Darrah.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers, non-Lisbon?
High School I really like Ben Kueter from Iowa City High who won State this year as a freshmen. He is a scrappy gutsy kid. College my favorite is Mike Kemmerer. I felt he would have been a National Champ this year.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
REO Speedwagon, Beach Boys, David Bowie, and believe it or not Elvis Presley!
What was a wrestling experience that made you feel the saddest for the kid you coached?
3 that come to my mind right away all occurred while coaching at City High. Brent Hamm (who now is the Head Coach at Cornell in Mount Vernon and Mike Somsky. Both Mike and Brent were hard workers and had great attitudes and were also two of the best wrestlers that I have coached that never made it to the State tournament. They both did everything right but it just didn’t happen for them. The saddest wrestling experience was my son Cody. Cody’s senior year he was ranked number 1 at 135 and was beaten at Districts by Adam Kurinski from Fairfield and did not qualify for State. Cody had beat him badly a few weeks prior like 14-3. Kurinski went on to win the State tournament. To this very day Cody or I have not watched the match.
Do you approach different athletes in different ways depending on how they respond to certain approaches or do you approach every kid the same way?
The main concept I learned from Dan Gable is that every athlete is different and as a coach you need to find out what that particular athlete needs to reach his goals. I have been able to get to know my athletes and their particular needs. In the past several years of coaching I have done a lot of individualized work with my athletes.
If a kid has anxiety/panic issues, what approach do you take to get those kids to believe in themselves?
A lot of managing this comes in how you prepare your wrestlers in the wrestling room. Positive encouragement at all times is a must in the wrestling room. There have been a lot of times that I will sit down with an athlete of mine and talk things out.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
My sophomore year in High School when I got beat in the first round of Districts when I was seated first and undefeated prior to the match. Had to stay home that year. Coaching it was in 2013, my first year back at Lisbon, and we lost to Wilton in the first round of Regional Duals. They got their lead and then forfeited 4-5 matches to save themselves for Alburnett in the finals. Lost a lot of respect for their program when that happened. They haven’t beaten us since.
Did Lisbon welcome you with open arms immediately or did you have to earn their respect?
They were use to Coach Baxter and it took some time for them to understand that there is more than one way to be a successful coach. Like I said earlier it took a little time to understand my coaching methods. When they did we were on our way and it ended up being a smooth transition for them.
Describe how tight-knit and proud the Lisbon wrestling community is…
We have great fan support. Having the tradition Lisbon has makes everything easier. Our parents really support our program as well as the entire community. Our administration is also very supportive. Most of our athletes are involved in 2-3 sports which makes all our programs more competitive. Our coaches encourage their athletes to go out for other sports. Everyone works together for a common goal.
I’ve mentioned several times that your son, Jacob was one of the toughest guys I used to face growing up. He was one of 2 guys in the grade below me who had my number, for I didn’t usually lose to younger guys. Couldn’t beat Jacob, though! He was capable of winning multiple titles, IMO, by unfortunately it didn’t happen. How did you coach your son to become as good as he was? Was he good from the start or did it take time?
Jacob was a natural athlete but he had a great work ethic as well. He started young like most kids do now, especially being the coach’s son. He was successful when he first started competing – like 1st grade. Good balance, quick, and always strong for his age. All my sons started young. I never pushed Jacob into competition, he just enjoyed it. Even though he is my son I still feel that he is one of the best wrestlers I have coached that never won a State Championship.
How would you compare and contrast your coaching approaches with all 3 of your sons, Cody, Colton and Jacob? Were they similar or different?
Actually I coached all 3 of my boys and they had their own styles. Jacob was the most physical of the 3, Cody probably the most technical, and Colton the most aggressive. I tried to treat and coach my boys just like I coached everyone else.
What was your proudest Cody, Colton and Jacob moments?
In 2002 when Iowa City High won both the Traditional and Dual Team Championships – it was awesome to have them both on State Championship teams. It is something they will always remember and be a part of. Cody was a sophomore and placed 4th at 112 and Jacob was a senior and finished 2nd at 145. They wrestled their hearts out in both the Duals and Traditional. I was proud how much they contributed to the team that season. For Colton after a tough loss his Junior year, he came back tough to get 3rd.
We finished 16 points ahead of Lewis Central so every team point made a difference.
Did you feel more anxious for your own matches or your sons’ matches?
Whenever my boys went out to compete I always felt that was part of me out there. I definitely was more intense for their matches cause I always wanted them to succeed. I seldom got anxious before I competed because I always felt I had a chance to win.
Did your wife’s family wrestle or was it just your side?
Just my side. My wife never saw me wrestle a match during my career at Iowa. I met her after I won the NCAA my senior year. We have been married for 42 years now and she has been by my side all these years. She has been my support system and I would not have had the success I’ve had without her.
I have noticed that you are incredibly good with remembering faces and names when you see them. We ran into you at a restaurant in Dubuque and you knew who myself and 3 of my friends were from youth/HS wrestling. We couldn’t believe it. Are you naturally good at this or do you just remember certain people easier for whatever reason it may be? Did you train yourself to become good at this?
Anyone that has ever wrestled I have respect for. I owe it to people that have been involved in wrestling. I feel really bad when I see someone I should know and don’t remember their name. As a coach I also have respect for the athletes and try my best to get to know their names. It has helped me through all these years because I go to AAU State every year and I have worked with the elite wrestlers at Fargo for several years so that helps.
What do we have to do to make the sport of wrestling more appealing to the kid who is on the fence in terms of trying it?
That is the responsibility of the Head Coach of that school. You have to have a good feeder program to get those kids interested. I also believe you do not get those kids that are on the fence to compete until they are really ready. We have a great feeder program and that makes my job so much easier. One of the issues with youth programs is young wrestlers compete too early and get burnt out. Youth coaches should not push their young athletes into competing until they are ready.
How do you feel the stereotypical wrestler is generally portrayed in the media?
The sport writers I know do a really nice job portraying wrestlers in a positive way. I also feel that coaches are doing a better job of educating their wrestlers the proper way to get to their ideal weight class. Our coaches here at Lisbon constantly talk about how important nutrition is to their success. The referees I have been around always mention the importance of sportsmanship. Parents and coaches have the most influence on our wrestlers so what they do and say will have a lasting impact.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
My college career. I finished well but didn’t reach the goals I set for myself earlier in my career.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Winning by a major decision my senior year at the NCAA finals and getting the Lisbon coaching job in 1978.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
No one really in high school but college it was Andre Allen. Ironically I beat him 3-2 my junior year in the State finals – he was a senior then. He beat me at the Big Ten’s and also in the Midland’s finals. He was a NCAA runner-up before I won it my senior year. We went back and forth. He was a great competitor.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
I participated in Football, wrestling, and baseball in High School. I always found time to compete in wrestling as much as possible because I knew it was my ticket to college. We played baseball in the spring so that left my summer pretty open so I could go through the Illinois freestyle circuit. Wrestled plenty of freestyle and won 3 State Freestyle titles and placed 3 times at the Junior National Freestyle tournament and was a runner-up In Greco.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
The technique is more advanced now and I also feel the wrestlers now know how to train better. Wrestlers back in my day were very good but didn’t have all the opportunities that wrestlers have now.
Did you wrestle after high school?
University of Iowa. 1973-1976. Wrestled varsity all 4 years.
What other sports did you play?
I was an All-State Football player, a 2 time State Champion, and an All State baseball player.
What are your favorite sports teams?
There is no team I follow more than the Chicago Cubs. My dad use to take me to Cubs games when I was a kid. My parents both worked during the day and I would fake being sick so I could watch a Cub game on WGN. One of the highlights of my life was when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. I’m also a Bears fan and have huge respect for Michael Jordan.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
When I was in high school collecting baseball cards and playing sandlot baseball with my high school buddies. Now I enjoy playing games like uno, backgammon, checkers, and playing pool. I also enjoy watching scary movies on NetFlix. I have to watch them by myself because my wife won’t watch them with me. Most of all I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife and I have 6 grandchildren now.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
I love the sport of wrestling. It has made me learn how to overcome adversity and persevere. I really enjoy giving back to the sport that has given so much to me. Coaching has given me the opportunity to guide my wrestlers to take the right path in life and for them to obtain their goals.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
As Dan Gable says ”Once you have wrestled everything in life comes easier.” I have learned how to set goals and still do this very day. I feel that I need to accomplish something every day. Because of wrestling I have learned how to handle adversity and make better decisions in my life. I have learned to treat people on how I want to be treated. I have also learned to be more patient with people and respect everyone even though they may have a different outlook on life. Through wrestling the most important way it has shaped me is to be the best husband and father I can be.
What do you do now?
I’ll be in my 43rd season as a Head Coach. 21 at City High and 22nd at Lisbon.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I will always be in some way. Don’t know what I would do without it.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Set your goals early and have a plan of action. A lot of young wrestlers set goals but don’t understand how to get there. Make wrestling fun and don’t take it too seriously right away.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
After I finished competing at the Midlands just for fun I went to a few Old Timers tournaments. I would go with a few of my former City High and Lisbon wrestlers. We had some good times. You wouldn’t see me doing it now!
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
One of the coaches I grew to really respect is Keith Massey who spent several years as the Head Coach at Lewis Central. He had some great teams and wrestlers. I enjoyed coaching against his teams, and even though his wrestler Trent Paulson stood in my son Jacobs way, he was a class act. Also several of my former team mates at Iowa that have become lifelong friends. Dan Holm, Bob Pratt, Tony Cordes, Chuck Yagla, Tim Cysewski, Mark Mysnyk, Greg Stevens, Mike McGivern, Mike McDonough, Dan Wagemann, Doug Benschoter, Chris Campbell, Steve Hunte, and John Bowlsby. The bond between wrestlers is the best.
And finally a shout out to the Head Coaches of outstanding programs that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years at freestyle competition and to train our wrestlers to get ready for Fargo. Rick Caldwell, Bob Yilek, Ron Gray, the late Bob Darrah, Brian Moore, Mark Reiland, Danny Knight, Jason Christenson, Eric Whitcome, Brent Jennings, Steve Mickelson, among others. Being around these guys only can make you better.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
When I took the job at Lisbon in 1978 I was the only coach in our system until 1987. I ran the kids club, Junior High program, and obviously the High School program. Coach Baxter did the same while he was at Lisbon. My first assistant was a great friend and former teammate at Iowa, named Mike McDonough. That was in 1987 when Lisbon won the first Dual team Championship in Iowa’s history and we finished 3rd in the Traditional. In 1988, Scott Martin became my assistant until the time I left after the 1991 season. To this day I consider Scott one of my best friends and contributed so much to our program. During my time with Scott we won 4 State Traditional titles, 1 Dual title, and 3 runner-up Dual titles. Scott went through the Al Baxter era and has more pride in the Lisbon tradition more than anyone I know.
When I came back to Lisbon in 2013 it took a few years to get our program back to where it was use to being. Since that time I have surrounded myself with outstanding individuals that had an amazing connection to Lisbon. Here a list of the former wrestlers of mine that joined me to bring Lisbon back to the top. Doren Montgomery (State Champ), Dean Happel (3 time State Champ), Shane Light (4 time State Champ), Brian Hall (State Champ), Jeff Clark (State Champ), and Greg Butteris (State Champ). I might have forgotten a few. There are others that I didn’t have the opportunity to coach that have put in a lot of time for Lisbon. Joe Kilburg (State Runner-up at Bellevue-has been involved for several years), Matt Gogel (who runs our Youth program), JJ Butteris (2 time State Champion), and Tait Simpson (State Runner-up). I can’t forget to mention the Coaches that helped me with our success at City High. Larry Brown, Garl McLaughlin, Andy Haman, Steve Randall, CT Campbell, Tony Brown, Mike Fumagalli, Jay Chelf, Jason Halupnick, Eric Koble, Jeff Bradley, the late Willie Gadson, Richard Kunc, Johnny Galloway, Jason Payne, Jamie Kamberling, and Eric Traynor.